How to Renovate with Sustainability in Mind
Home renovations can always be stressful, but renovating and decorating your home in an eco-friendly way can feel extra overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start. The good news is that there have never been more accessible options for incorporating sustainability into your home design in ways both big and small. Keeping sustainability at top of mind while making choices about everything from paint to flooring, lighting, appliances, furniture, textiles, and decor will streamline your decision-making and help you to create a greener home for your family while helping the planet.
Here are some expert tips and resources to help you renovate and decorate your home with sustainability in mind.
Hire an Accredited Professional
When it comes to home renovation, most people focus on aesthetic choices while hiring professionals to worry about the fine details. So how can you be more confident that you are making sustainable choices when renovating and remodeling?
“Hire LEED accredited professionals for your remodeling or decorating project,” says LEED-accredited interior designer Jennifer Jones of San Francisco-based Niche Interiors. “LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a sustainable program run by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Architects, interior designers and general contractors can all be accredited through this program, ensuring that the members of your team are focused on sustainable building practices.”
Install Greener Appliances
In the bathroom, consider installing low-flow faucets and low-flush toilets that reduce water use. Choose large appliances such as washing machines with the highest energy rating you can find whenever possible, and install LED lighting that will save energy and cost less to use over time.
In the kitchen, Lisa Carey Moore, Director of Buildings at the Seattle-based International Living Future Institute, suggests swapping your gas stove for an induction model. “While cooking with fossil gas was once considered the best way to prepare gourmet meals, induction stoves are now seen as superior, including as a strategy to reduce use of fossil fuels,” says Moore.
“In addition, heat pumps can cool your home or heat your water much more efficiently,” she says. “When confronted with an opportunity to replace a fossil-fuel driven product with one relying on electricity, embrace it. Removing fossil fuels is an important step towards zero carbon buildings.”
The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes tax incentives for climate-friendly measures such as installing solar panels and purchasing more energy efficient electrical appliances, windows, and doors.
Use Regenerative Materials and Natural Finishes
When selecting materials for building, renovation, interior design, and decor, prioritize naturally regenerative materials such as bamboo or cork. Moore of the International Living Future Institute suggests using natural materials such as hemp, straw, and wood, which “can also contribute to better indoor air quality and eliminate toxic Red List chemicals found in synthetic products.”
Choose low or no VOC paint from companies like Clare Paint, founded by interior designer Nicole Gibbons. Or consider a natural clay plaster wall finish from British company Clayworks that blends unfired clays mixed with minerals and natural pigments to create a sustainable wall paint alternative.
When it comes to textiles such as curtains, upholstery, or bed and table linens, prioritize natural materials made from hemp, one of the most sustainable, fast-growing ancient crops in the world; or linen, a recyclable raw material made from zero waste flax fiber.
And for the more adventurous, a new generation of designers is creating home decor products using innovative eco-friendly materials, such as lamps that are grown to order using mycelium, the endlessly renewable root fibers of mushrooms.
Many of us have internalized the planet-friendly mantra to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It has become increasingly mainstream to prioritize buying vintage and secondhand in everything from fashion to home goods. Be mindful of this eco-friendly philosophy when making choices around renovation and decor.
If you’re a homeowner renovating a house or apartment, walk through every inch of your space with an eye toward what can be saved, preserved, and rehabilitated, rather than rolling full steam ahead with a gut renovation. Peeling away the layers of past renovations can reveal original features like exposed brick or millwork that can add character to the space with a little TLC. Refinish rather than replace old hardwood floors, or if they’re too banged up, consider painting them for a Scandinavian-inspired look.
If you’re doing the renovation work yourself, challenge yourself to sourcing as many repurposed materials as possible before you commit to buying a thing. Stylist and photographer Jeska Hearne from Lobster and Swan, teamed up with her husband to create a dreamy DIY kitchen using reclaimed wooden floorboards; recycled crates cut down for the shelves; old pipes from under the floors for curtain and hanging rails; and oak laths from a local restoration center to create a rustic oven hood.
When it comes to decor, before you buy anything new, evaluate what you already have. Move things around. Repaint that dated china hutch and turn it into a display piece for your out-of-control collection of plants. Cut the legs down on an old wooden farm-style dining table and you’ve got yourself a rustic coffee table. Recover your throw pillows by repurposing old curtains or that groovy patterned shirt that you love but can’t quite pull off.
Buy Local When You Can
Seek out small businesses and local artisans with a transparent mission statement around sustainability. In Birmingham, Alabama, for example, small independent woodworking company Alabama Sawyer turns local fallen urban trees that would have otherwise been headed to the landfill into everything from stylish cutting boards and countertop compost bins to quality wooden furniture. Those with a taste for brand names can check out The Local Vault, a high-end furniture and decor consignment marketplace with an edited collection of pre-owned luxury furnishings sourced from around the country.
And because researchers have determined that climate change disproportionately affects women, people of color, and socially vulnerable communities, use online directories such as the Small Business Administration’s searchable database of women- and minority-owned businesses to find ways to support people in your community.
Bring the Outdoors In
What’s good for the planet is also good for humans, and creating links between our indoor spaces and the natural world through the use of houseplants or living walls can bring us closer to nature, while simple tricks to maximize natural light like decorating with well-placed mirrors can reduce energy use.
Moore of the International Living Future Institute says that our homes should help support our natural instinct for biophilia, or the human tendency to crave nature.
“Biophilic design, which connects people with nature in the built environment, can be as simple as adding plants or a living wall, or it can be a guiding principle of new home construction,” Moore says. “Science shows that people are healthier, more productive and happier when they can see trees out the window, or feel connected with nature in their homes.”